Tag Archives: siblings

Minute-to-Win-it date with Gracie


Last Saturday Grace came home from an activity at church with an invitation (and a request) to extend to Tyler. A friend of hers from her YSA ward is going to school to be a therapist and for one of her school assignments had to meet with a child between the ages of 8-12 and administer an evaluation. The assignment was not about the test but rather a self-assessment of her interaction with the child. Since Amelia is from out of state and doesn’t know a lot of 8 to 12-year-old kids in Pittsburgh, Grace suggested Tyler might be willing to help her out.

Grace approached him with the request, pairing it with an invitation. On Monday night her group of young singles were meeting at the church for a Minute to Win It night of games and challenges. She suggested that they could meet with Amelia beforehand and then Tyler could come with her to her game night.

Tyler quickly said, “YES!”

On Monday night, following Tyler’s tutoring in Wexford, the two of them hopped in the car for their date. Tyler was eager to get going and the only picture I was able to capture of them before they left was one with Tyler three quarters of the way out the door.

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Luckily Grace documented their evening for me.

Tyler’s meeting with Amelia was a smashing success. He really liked her and I think it pleased him to be asked to help out one of Gracie’s friends.

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And he LOVED the Minute To Win It games that followed.

The night was comprised of all his favorite things:

1.      Time with Gracie. (They have had a special bond from the moment he first moved in)

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2.     Minute To Win It games. (Tyler is a born competitor and loves challenges that test physical ability.)

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3.     Hanging with the big boys. (Tyler is drawn to the company of older boys/men. He craves their attention and their accolades and loves nothing more than to be able to show off his talents and receive their praise. So much of this need stems from his past and what was absent in his life prior to moving in with us.)

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4.    Treats…because isn’t that the best part of any FHE activity.

Tyler had a wonderful time. He loved meeting all Gracie’s friends and came home armed with information on which boys he liked best and who he thought Grace should marry.

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When she explained that she had no plans to marry anyone anytime soon he looked at her with concern and pity in his big brown eyes and bluntly responded, “But you are an adult. You need to get married soon, Grace. You are getting OLD.”

In that moment I had a vision of the father from “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,”


We will see if Tyler gets invited back anytime soon!

Adoption Heartbreak


Ozzie has a little sister.

And she sits in the center of his heartbreak.

She is the person he mourns for most. She is the person from his past he longs for most. She is the hardest “goodbye” he has faced.

It is interesting to listen to Ozzie as he opens up about his past. He has been in many foster homes and experienced more than his fair share of hurt, heart breaks and losses, and yet the one that he struggles most with is the loss of his sister.

Zoey, although still part of his life, no longer is a daily part of his life. They reside in different houses, call two different women, “Mom,” attend two different schools and churches, and now take part in different traditions and daily rituals. Even though they speak weekly and visit monthly, Ozzie feels like he has lost his sister.

When the decision was made to place these two kids in different pre-adoptive homes, I struggled. We had been doing respite care on the weekends with both of them and I had seen the great love Ozzie has for his sister. The separation seemed cruel and unjust. I struggled to understand the judge’s reasoning.

Over the past year, however, I have seen the behaviors and the witnessed the open wounds that led to the judge’s decision.  I better understand now why the judge made the hard, very hard, decision he did. What seemed so cruel may have in fact been a gift of mercy. I have watched as these two blessings have blossomed in a way that perhaps would not have happened if they had been kept together…I don’t know, but after our visit on Monday I had a better understanding of God’s whisperings when He led us to Ozzie (alone) rather than the two of them (together) that we were pursuing originally.

He has a plan.

When He is whispering “No” to our plans it is out of love…love for our family, for Ozzie and for Zoey.

But even though I can now see His mercy in saying “No” to our desire to adopt them together,

it doesn’t lessen the pain of the loss for Ozzie.

The fallout of his “sister visits” are hard and often emotionally draining.

They are such a good thing, such an important thing, but often a very hard thing.


On Monday we were off school so we had arranged with Zoey’s  mom to pick up Zoey and take her out for the day. We decided to take advantage of the generous adoption gift that we received from my parents, a membership to the Carnegie museums of Pittsburgh, and take Zoey with us to the Science center.

We had no idea what we were in for!

When we arrived we discovered, unbeknownst to us, that it was “Free Day.” I think half of Pittsburgh showed up to enjoy the free fun. I knew that adding Zoey to the mix was going to be challenging. I now had three hyper little ones to herd through the Science Center, but when I saw the crowds my stomach really began to flip and flop with anxiety. I said a prayer that we would survive the crowds and leave with the same number of children that we began the day with. 🙂

The line to get in!

The line to get in!

We started the day with 6 children, and ended the day with....4, 5, 6 children. Whew!

We started the day with 6 children, and ended the day with….4, 5, 6 children. Whew!

The big kids were all assigned a buddy. They were in charge of being with their buddy at all times. It worked out well and gave me peace of mind knowing that there were two sets of eyes on each little one.

Grace and Zoey were partners:



Rusty and Ozzie were partners:

The earthquake simulator...Yikes!

The earthquake simulator…Yikes!

And Molly and Tyler were buddies:


Despite the crowds the kids all had a fun day!

Rusty trying out an astronaut bed.

Rusty trying out an astronaut bed.



Mid-day we took a break and ate our packed lunches in the cafeteria before we walked up to the planetarium. While in line for the “Stars over Pittsburgh” show we ran into friends from church: the Grundburgs and Debakers. It was amazing we saw each other with the sheer number of people there that day.

Lunch break!

Lunch break!

In the planaterium...

In the planetarium…

One of our last stops for the day was the Omnimax theatre where we watched “Born to be Free,” a documentary film about two women and their conservation work with baby elephants and baby orangutans. The movie was wonderful but the theatre was what really made it thrilling for the kids.


One final stop to play at the water table and we were on our way. Gracie decided she wanted to practice driving in Pittsburgh traffic and did a big part of our driving to and from the Science Center. I was so proud of my BRAVE girl!




It was a good day.

but the night was hard.

As I tucked in Ozzie the emotional fallout of our day was evident.

The adoption process is heartbreaking, and messy, and painful even in “best case scenarios”…

even when the story ends with “Happily Ever After.”

This is when we must trust God,

and watch as He softens the loss and multiplies the LOVE.

Date Night



We started a tradition a few years ago. It was a tradition that evolved from a problem that needed to be solved. Prior to Tyler joining our family Toby and I had date night every Thursday evening. It started when Gracie turned 12. She was allowed to begin babysitting and we no longer had to pay a sitter.  It was our chance to run our errands, grocery shop for the week and have a dinner date. It was a perfect way to “kill two birds with one stone” so to speak. We had uninterrupted time together and it made grocery shopping something to look forward to rather than something I dreaded doing.

When Tyler moved in we were no longer able to go out on our date night since Gracie wasn’t allowed to watch him (as a foster kid) so our date night became a “movie in bed” date night and I was back to grocery shopping on my own. One day I realized I was wasting an opportunity to have one-on-one time with the kids and started taking one of them with me on Wednesday nights when I shopped and thus was born- “Date night with Mom.”

The kids get their date night every 5 weeks. The cycle begins with Grace and goes oldest to youngest. Date night typically consists of my helper helping me fill the gas tank, clean out the car, grocery shop and run any extra errands that pertain to them and their most pressing needs. It is on their date night that we tackle shoe shopping, trying on swim suits, getting a haircut, etc. I find if we do these tasks (that are needed but that I often dread dealing with) when it is just the two of us it can be a lot of fun…much more fun than trying on shoes with 5 kids! Our date night also affords us the additional benefit of getting to have open heart to heart talks about the things they have been thinking/worrying/dreaming about. The kids talk openly and share in a different way than they do at home with siblings nearby.

The kids look forward to their date night and often give their restaurant and their shopping list a lot of thought in the weeks prior to their date. The benefit of being Mom’s shopping helper is the child on date night gets to make grocery decisions like what cereal our family will be eating that week, our Family Night treat and what fruits we will buy. So the benefit of date night lasts all week-long as they enjoy their food and drink  preferences.

Last night was Ozzie’s date night. Our first stop was to get his hair cut. Although he really didn’t care for the haircutting he did love the shampooing. At first I thought he was excited to get his hair cut because of the novelty of the experience,  the sweet-smelling shampoo, or just the sensation of having his hair washed (I know that is always my favorite part!) but it wasn’t until he jumped down from the wash sink seat that I realized the real reason he wanted it washed.

“Now I don’t have to take a bath for three days..Woo Woo!!” he yelled as he skipped by me.

“How do you figure that?” I asked

He looked at me with his exasperated 16-year-old girl look and said, pointing at his head, “I have shampoo in here.”

To which I explained, “Unless you had your whole body washed in the hair sink you will still need a bath.” 🙂

As the lady cut Ozzie’s hair she visited with him and asked him questions. At one point she asked him where he got his beautiful blue eyes from. He answered, “I was born with them.”

She smiled and said, “I bet you got them from your Mom. You look just like her.”

Ozzie quickly corrected her, “Oh, my mom didn’t born me.” Then with typical Ozzie enthusiasm he declared, “But she’s adopting me!”

I was thinking about her comment and Ozzie’s response after the fact and it brought to mind a quote I found online a few days ago:

Our skin doesn’t match. You don’t have my eyes or mouth, and our faces aren’t the same shape. I don’t know what it is like to look at you and catch a glimpse of myself as a child. What I see in you is far more beautiful than that. When I look at you I see the hand of God in my life.”       – Christy Wagner

What a beautiful gift it is to look into my son’s eyes and see God’s hand.

After we finished shopping we headed to Pizza Hut for dinner. This was Ozzie’s choice. The kids get to pick where they want to go for dinner. The only rule is that they have to feed both of us for $10. At Pizza Hut we ordered the dinner box which included a medium pizza (Ozzie chose mushroom pizza), 5 bread sticks, and 10 cinnamon sticks for $9.99. As we waited for our food to be brought out we played the “get to know you” game and took turns asking each other questions.

Here are some of the things I learned about my son last night.

All about Ozzie 101

His favorite color: Blue

His favorite food: Pizza

His favorite candy: Rainbow Nerds

His favorite thing to read about: Weather

His favorite drink: Orange Juice

His favorite holiday: Christmas, because we celebrate Jesus’ birth

What he wants to be when he grows up: A construction worker who drives big machines

His best talent: Magic (making balls disappear)

His favorite thing about school: Lunch

If he could change one thing about himself: He wishes he were taller (95 feet tall to be exact)

His favorite movie: Cars or The Lego Movie

His greatest fear: Thunderstorms

The 3 things he would take to a deserted island: Big screen TV, video games, and a missile

If he could go back in time to any time in history he would choose: 1981 (because he always wanted to live a long time ago)

My final question was:

“What is the best thing that has ever happened to you?”

He replied,

“Having you guys adopt me and be my family forever.”

As I knelt beside my bed last night I thanked God for my many blessings

especially this little blue-eyed boy

who helps me to see more clearly

the hand of God in my life.

A peek into his past…


“A child born to another woman calls me Mom. The depth of the tragedy and the magnitude of the privilege are not lost on me.” – Jody Landers

I am often reminded of the truth of these words as I parent my two youngest children. These two blessings came to me as a result of God’s grace but through great tragedy. These two little boys who have brought our family such joy and completion had to experience the heartbreak of a broken home and lost family to get to our doorstep. The realization of all they went through, as well as the heartbreak their biological mothers went through, weigh heavy on my heart as we head into the week of Mother’s day.

These little boys have experienced more tragedy in their short lives than most of us will have to shoulder over the course of our lifetime and one of the greatest losses they shoulder is the loss of their biological family. When I stop to imagine the emotional pain I would feel to have someone come to my house unexpectedly, take me away from all I know…my family, my bedroom, my pets…and to be told I will never see them again, well, it simply takes my breath away. I can’t imagine the pain of that loss. And then to be placed in a system that promises hope…a new forever family, a new Mommy and Daddy, a new life…only to have it fail again and again until there is no trust and no security… My boys needed to be removed from their biological homes but the tragedy of that loss still breaks my heart.

These thoughts have been swirling around in my head as a result of my one-on-one time with Ozzie the other day. For his special time he wanted to play around on Google maps. Ozzie loves maps and will often take our road atlas to bed for nighttime reading. 🙂 As I sat with him he asked me if I wanted to see all the homes he used to live at. (It amazes me that he remembers the addresses of all his previous homes!) Being new to Google maps I didn’t realize that you could see the street views of different addresses. As he moved down different streets it was as if you were virtually “driving” and could see the homes and roads just as they look.

The first address he typed in was the address of his biological parents. As he “drove” up their road he pointed out the friend’s house he used to play at, the playground where he rode his scooter, his grandma’s home where he would spend the night. We were then at his home. We could see his old jeep parked in front and he pointed out the window to his bedroom. As we looked at his home he told me the stories of his life there. The good, wonderful memories he has of that chapter of his life as well as the tragic ones. It was surreal to be looking into the windows of his past and the reality of all he has lost hit me. Seeing it made it real and as much as I would love to close my eyes to the life my sons had before they joined our family, it is there, forever. It is part of who they are and who they will always be.

Compounding the emotions I felt after my time with Ozzie was another experience over the weekend. We were invited to Zoey’s (Ozzie’s biological sister) 9th birthday. The kids were all excited because it was a roller skating party, but nobody was more excited that Ozzie. He adores Zoey and struggles with the fact that they can’t live together.

As we arrived at the party we were introduced to Zoey’s new family, the family that will be adopting her. We had met her mom many times before but at the party we had the opportunity to meet her cousins, aunts and uncles, sister and grandma. As introductions were made another realization hit me as I recognized the relationship I would now have with these people who were virtual strangers to me minutes before. By adopting siblings our lives are forever tied together. Our futures have been merged as a result of another woman’s tragedy. There will be graduations, weddings, baby showers…and in the same way I am forever tied to the families of Tyler’s biological siblings I am tied to Zoey’s. Through the tragedy of a broken family love grows, families grow, and people are united for the sake of a child. It is a beautiful blessing that comes from a tragic situation.

At Zoey’s party I also had the unexpected privilege of meeting one of Ozzie’s previous foster moms. Michele, Ozzie’s first foster mom, was invited to the party as a result of Zoey’s friendship with her daughter. I felt like I had met an old friend as I visited with her and watched as she laughed and cried and embraced my son. Here, once again, was another woman my son had called “Mommy.”  Here was another woman who played a role in his past. Here was a woman who bathed him, put band aids on his cuts, and taught him to read. Here was another mother who experienced the joys and frustrations of being Ozzie’s mom and here was another mother that Ozzie lost. The kids were with Michele for two years. She thought she was going to adopt them. She expressed to me that of all the foster kids she had (She has been a foster mom for 30 years) that these were the ones she loved the most…these were the ones she spent her nights wondering and worrying about. What an amazing gift we all experienced in getting to connect. I was able to hug and thank the woman who loved and cared for my son at a time in his life he most needed it most and she was able to experience the peace of knowing that the kids are well and happy and where they are meant to be.

It was such a special day and a reminder of the great blessings that come from tragic circumstances. God has the power and infinite love to take what is hopeless and create beautiful lives from broken ones.

The kids all ready to skate!

The kids all ready to skate!


The Chicken Dance!

The Chicken Dance!

Zoey and her foster family- ready to blow out her candle :)

Zoey and her foster family- ready to blow out her candle 🙂

Ozzie was as excited as Zoey :)

Ozzie was as excited as Zoey 🙂

Sibling love!

Sibling love!

As I look back on my life, Toby’s life, and the lives of all my children I see God’s hand in each of their lives. I see His hand in the choices we have made, the obstacles that detoured us down different paths, the people who have entered our lives during different seasons, as well as the timing of life events. It was all part of God’s plan from the beginning so that we could look back in awe at His goodness and grace.

“Your journey has molded you for your greater good, and it was exactly what it needed to be. Don’t think that you’ve lost time. It took each and every situation that you have encountered to bring you to the now. And now is right on time.” – Asha Tyson